How many peers does it take to change a light bulb?

You may not see Jean Lievens very often in this blog, but rest assured that he’s an integral member of the P2P Foundation. Jean is the co-author (with Michel Bauwens) of “Der Wereld Redden”, a book of conversations between Michel and Jean on how a Global P2P approach could save the world from the convergence of crises it faces. “Der Wereld Redden” has been a best seller in Belgium, currently in its third print run. Jean is also the editor and main content contributor to the Dutch-language P2P Foundation blog, and, to top it off, he’s a ferocious content curator. We value his pages as sources for great material to read and share here on the English blog.

Today though, Jean has an important question…

Jean Lievens

There are two good reasons to change a light bulb. The first one is that it is broken; the second, that it is obsolete. If it is broken, we will be in the dark and it will be much harder to replace it. But we are not there (yet). The main problem with our bulb ? or rather bulbs, because we are using far more than we really need ? is that they are designed to fail, they can never be repaired and contain toxic materials poisoning the environment when thrown away.

So there are many reasons why we need to replace our bulb. How many peers does it take to change it? A lot. Why? Too many people are still squabbling if the bulb needs to be replaced in the first place. Therefore, those who know the light bulb needs to be changed, otherwise it might explode with devastating effects, need to take their fate into their own hands. Let’s call them the Transformers.

First, the Transformers need to design the best possible light bulb. If a team of about 80 engineers in a dozen countries can design a sustainable, eco-friendly car like Wikispeed, a similar number of peers can certainly design a sustainable, eco-friendly, low energy consuming light bulb.

« Too many people are still squabbling if the bulb needs to be replaced in the first place »

Because they have no incentive to make a throwaway bulb in order to sell as many as possible to maximise profits, they will design the best possible light bulb: open, sustainable and reparable by everyone as it uses an open design. It will even be adaptable to changing needs and moods as it will probably function with a programmable arduino.

Once they have designed this wonderful light bulb, the Transformers need to produce it. They do not need a huge factory to produce throwaway bulbs on a mass scale; a local micro factory or fablab will do just fine. If they find 2500 people donating $ 20 each through a crowdfunding campaign, they will get the necessary funds to finance their fablab. Up till now, about 2580 people are needed to change the light bulb; maybe less if the donators are rich or more generous.

But wait a minute… Even if the Transformers build the machinery for their fablab themselves, following in the footsteps of Marcin Jacubowski, they still need to rely on others to buy some machine parts. They need raw materials and energy, although a coop, raising about $ 1,25 million, can produce green electricity locally. So the Transformers need another 2500 people paying $ 500 each, bringing the total number of peers needed to 5080.

« Not only the Transformers know how to design and produce better light bulbs, they also can make better software, cars, satellites and even coffee »

Unfortunately, despite all their efforts the Transformers have only found a partial solution to their problem. There is a lot they can do locally, but what if the sun does not shine or the wind does not blow? A smart grid financed by the state and linking them to other local coops would be handy. But the question of raw materials and machine parts still need to be solved, although they might find a solution in recycling old stuff. Still more peers are needed…

Not only the Transformers know how to design and produce better light bulbs, they also can make better software, cars, satellites and even coffee. And they are much happier than their peers in big factories who are alienated from their work. Luckily there are more and more Transformers everywhere around the world. Their experiments are mushrooming and the number of peers involved is growing every day.

According to Jeremy Rifkin in his new book The Zero Marginal Cost Society, there are already millions of “prosumers” generating their own green electricity at near zero marginal cost. It is estimated that around 100.000 hobbyists are manufacturing their own goods using 3D printing. But we have not reached the tipping point yet. Following the second law of dialectics, a lot more peers are needed to transform quantity into quality and change the light bulb once and for all.

PS: Come to think of it, there is a light bulb burning since 1901 in Livermore, California. Unfortunately for 113 years nobody wants to produce it…

Originally published in Open Thoughts’ special 2014 issue, asking the question “How many peers does it take to change a light bulb?”

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.